Education Hawaii Non-ProfitWritten by Steven Petranik On 18 October 2010

Hawaii Public Radio has the enviable privilege of bucking the national and local trend toward more niche news outlets. It’s growing its audience, and potential audience, with new or stronger transmitters around Hawaii and with online streaming. Nationally, National Public Radio has a powerful online presence and mobile phone apps that are reaching many more people than NPR used to.

Meanwhile, as the audience for traditional mass media – print newspapers and TV newscasts – is shrinking, many of the emerging new media have found niche audiences. And almost all of the new media find it challenging to raise enough money to pay for quality news reporting

The Hawaii Business team was at Hawaii Public Radio this morning, on the air and answering phones as part of the HPR’s fall fundraising drive. (Disclosure: My wife and I have been loyal members of HPR for almost 25 years and are regular listeners.) One thing I stressed on the air is how important it is for HPR and all local media to encourage and sustain a community conversation, over politics, culture and other important issues. That’s what we do here at Hawaii Business and that’s what HPR does. Good luck to them.

Hawaii’s is privileged to be the site of a different approach in news media, Honolulu Civil Beat. Pierre Omidyar’s Civil Beat is trying to recreate the civic square online: a place for an informed and civil conversation on important local issues. If you follow the reader comments on most online sites, the conversation is often very uncivil, rarely thoughtful and almost always anonymous. At Civil Beat, the comments are usually well-considered and polite, the author is always named (often, their picture is included, too). There is a real conversation on major issues.

Civil Beat’s innovation is that it is the opposite of HPR and NPR. HPR gives its product away – anyone can listen on the radio or online – and then asks for voluntary donations. Civil Beat gives away a small taste of its stories to everyone, but charges $20 a month for you to be a member, to read all the stories and to comment on them. Omidyar chose this model because he believes it can be self-sustaining; post worthwhile and important news stories and involved and public-spirited citizens will be willing to join the site and engage in the conversation.

It will take Civil Beat many years to build the loyal membership that HPR has painstakingly grown over the decades, but I wish it every success. It is a noble effort and Hawaii needs every community discussion possible. And if Civil Beat’s business model succeeds, it could be the template for similar sites nationally and globally.

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Steven Petranik

Editor, Hawaii Business magazine

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